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W.H. Auden

From the Library of Congress
Born February 21, 1907(1907-02-21)
York, England
Died 29 September 1973 (aged 66)
Vienna, Austria
Nationality British from birth; American from 1946
Ethnicity English
Education M.A. English language and literature
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Occupation Poet
Relatives George Augustus Auden (father), Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden (mother), George Bernard Auden (brother), John Bicknell Auden (brother)

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973, pronounced /ˈwɪstən ˈhjuː ˈɔːdən/)[1] who signed his works W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,[2][3] born in England, later an American citizen, regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.[4] His work is noted for its stylistic and technical achievements, its engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety of tone, form and content.[5][6] The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature.

Auden grew up in Birmingham in a professional middle class family and read English literature at Christ Church, Oxford. His early poems, written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, alternated between telegraphic modern styles and fluent traditional ones, were written in an intense and dramatic tone, and established his reputation as a left-wing political poet and prophet. He became uncomfortable in this role in the later 1930s, and abandoned it after he moved to the United States in 1939, where he became an American citizen in 1946. His poems in the 1940s explored religious and ethical themes in a less dramatic manner than his earlier works, but still combined traditional forms and styles with new forms devised by Auden himself. In the 1950s and 1960s many of his poems focused on the ways in which words revealed and concealed emotions, and he took a particular interest in writing opera librettos, a form ideally suited to direct expression of strong feelings.[7]

He was also a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential. After his death, some of his poems, notably "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks") and "September 1, 1939", became widely known through films, broadcasts and popular media.[4]

Contents

Life

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Childhood and education, 1907–1927

Childhood

Wystan Hugh Auden was born in York, England, to George Augustus Auden, a physician, and Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden, who had trained (but never served) as a missionary nurse.[8] He was the third of three children, all sons; the eldest, George Bernard Auden, became a farmer, while the second, John Bicknell Auden, became a geologist. Auden's grandfathers were both Church of England clergymen; his household was Anglo-Catholic, following a "High" form of Anglicanism with doctrine and ritual resembling that of Roman Catholicism.[9][10] He traced his love of music and language partly to the church services of his childhood.[11] He believed he was of Icelandic descent, and his lifelong fascination with Icelandic legends and Old Norse sagas is visible throughout his work.[12]

In 1908 his family moved to Harborne, Birmingham, where his father had been appointed the School Medical Officer and Lecturer (later Professor) of Public Health; Auden's lifelong psychoanalytic interests began in his father's library. From the age of eight he attended boarding schools, returning home for holidays.[9] His visits to the Pennine landscape and its declining lead-mining industry figure in many of his poems; the remote decaying mining village of Rookhope was for him a "sacred landscape", evoked in a late poem, "Amor Loci."[13] Until he was fifteen he expected to become a mining engineer, but his passion for words had already begun. He wrote later: "words so excite me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do."[14]

Education

Auden's first boarding school was St. Edmund's School, Surrey, where he met Christopher Isherwood, later famous in his own right as a novelist. At thirteen he went to Gresham's School in Norfolk; there, in 1922, when his friend Robert Medley asked him if he wrote poetry, Auden first realized his vocation was to be a poet.[9] Soon after, he "discover(ed) that he (had) lost his faith" (through a gradual realisation that he had lost interest in religion, not through any decisive change of views).[15] In school productions of Shakespeare, he played Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew in 1922[16], and Caliban in The Tempest in 1925, his last year at Gresham's.[17] His first published poems appeared in the school magazine in 1923.[18] Auden later wrote a chapter on Gresham's for Graham Greene's The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (1934).[19]

In 1925 he went to Christ Church, Oxford, with a scholarship in biology, but he switched to English by his second year. Friends he met at Oxford included Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender; these four were commonly though misleadingly identified in the 1930s as the "Auden Group" for their shared (but not identical) left-wing views. Auden left Oxford in 1928 with a third-class degree.[9][11]

He was reintroduced to Christopher Isherwood in 1925; for the next few years Isherwood was his literary mentor to whom he sent poems for comments and criticism. Auden probably fell in love with Isherwood and in the 1930s they maintained a sexual friendship in intervals between their relations with others. In 1935–39 they collaborated on three plays and a travel book.[20]

From his Oxford years onward, his friends uniformly described him as funny, extravagant, sympathetic, generous, and, partly by his own choice, lonely. In groups he was often dogmatic and overbearing in a comic way; in more private settings he was diffident and shy except when certain of his welcome. He was punctual in his habits, and obsessive about meeting deadlines, while choosing to live amidst physical disorder.[10]

Britain and Europe, 1928–1938

In the autumn of 1928 Auden left Britain for nine months in Weimar Berlin, partly to rebel against English repressiveness in a city where homosexuality was widely tolerated. In Berlin, he said, he first experienced the political and economic unrest that became one of his central subjects.[11]

On returning to Britain in 1929, he worked briefly as a tutor. In 1930 his first published book, Poems (1930), was accepted by T. S. Eliot for Faber and Faber; the firm also published all his later books. In 1930 he began five years as a schoolmaster in boys' schools: two years at the Larchfield Academy, in Helensburgh, Scotland, then three years at the The Downs School, in the Malvern Hills, where he was a much-loved teacher.[9] At the Downs, in June 1933, he experienced what he later described as a "Vision of Agape," when, while sitting with three fellow-teachers at the school, he suddenly found that he loved them for themselves, that their existence had infinite value for him; this experience, he said, later influenced his decision to return to the Anglican Church in 1940.[21]

During these years, Auden's erotic interests focused, as he later said, on an idealized "Alter Ego"[22] rather than on individual persons. His relations (and his unsuccessful courtships) tended to be unequal either in age or intelligence; his sexual relations were transient, although some evolved into long friendships. He contrasted these relations with what he later regarded as the "marriage" (his word) of equals that he began with Chester Kallman in 1939 (see below), based on the unique individuality of both partners.[23]

From the G.P.O. Film Unit's Night Mail; scene possibly directed by Auden

From 1935 until he left Britain early in 1939, Auden worked as freelance reviewer, essayist, and lecturer, first with the G.P.O. Film Unit, a documentary film-making branch of the post office, headed by John Grierson. Through his work for the Film Unit in 1935 he met and collaborated with Benjamin Britten, with whom he also worked on plays, song cycles, and a libretto. Auden's plays in the 1930s were performed by the Group Theatre, in productions that he supervised to varying degrees.[11]

His work now reflected his belief that any good artist must be "more than a bit of a reporting journalist."[24] In 1936 he spent three months in Iceland, where he gathered material for a travel book Letters from Iceland (1937), written in collaboration with Louis MacNeice. In 1937 he went to Spain intending to drive an ambulance for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, but was put to work broadcasting propaganda, a job he left in order to visit the front. His seven-week visit to Spain affected him deeply, and his social views grew more complex as he found political realities to be more ambiguous and troubling than he had imagined.[9][23] Again attempting to combine reportage and art, he and Isherwood spent six months in 1938 visiting the Sino-Japanese War, working on their book Journey to a War (1939). On their way back to England they stayed briefly in New York and decided to move to the United States. Auden spent the autumn of 1938 partly in England, partly in Brussels.[9]

Many of his poems during the 1930s and afterward were inspired by unconsummated love, and in the 1950s he summarized his emotional life in a famous couplet: "If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me" ("The More Loving One"). He had a gift for friendship and, starting in the late 1930s, a strong wish for the stability of marriage; in a letter to his friend James Stern he called marriage "the only subject."[25] Throughout his life, he performed charitable acts, sometimes in public (as in his marriage of convenience to Erika Mann in 1935 that gave her a British passport with which to escape the Nazis[9]), but, especially in later years, more often in private, and he was embarrassed if they were publicly revealed, as when his gift to his friend Dorothy Day for the Catholic Worker movement was reported on the front page of The New York Times in 1956.[26]

United States and Europe, 1939–1973

Auden and Isherwood sailed to New York in January 1939, entering on temporary visas. Their departure from Britain was later seen by many there as a betrayal and Auden's reputation suffered.[9] In April 1939 Isherwood moved to California, and he and Auden saw each other only intermittently in later years. Around this time, Auden met the poet Chester Kallman, who became his lover for the next two years (Auden described their relation as a "marriage" that began with a cross-country "honeymoon" journey).[27] In 1941 Kallman ended their sexual relations because he could not accept Auden's insistence on a mutual faithful relationship, but he and Auden remained companions for the rest of Auden's life, sharing houses and apartments from 1953 until Auden's death. Auden dedicated both editions of his collected poetry (1945/50 and 1966) to Isherwood and Kallman.[28]

In 1940–41, Auden lived in a house in Brooklyn Heights which he shared with Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, and others, and which became a famous center of artistic life.[29] In 1940, he joined the Episcopal Church, returning to the Anglican Communion he had abandoned at thirteen. His reconversion was influenced partly by what he called the "sainthood" of Charles Williams,[30] whom he had met in 1937, partly by reading Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr; his existential, this-worldly Christianity became a central element in his life.[31]

In 1941–42 he taught English at the University of Michigan. He was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1942, but did not use it, choosing instead to teach at Swarthmore College in 1942–45.[9] In the summer of 1945, after the end of World War II in Europe, he was in Germany with the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey, studying the effects of Allied bombing on German morale, an experience that affected his postwar work as his visit to Spain had affected him earlier.[28] On his return, he settled in Manhattan, working as a freelance writer, and as a lecturer at The New School for Social Research and a visiting professor at Bennington, Smith, and other American colleges. In 1946 he became a naturalized citizen of the US.[9][11]

His theology in his later years evolved from a highly inward and psychologically oriented Protestantism in the early 1940s to a more Roman Catholic-oriented interest in the significance of the body and in collective ritual in the later 1940s and 1950s, and finally to the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which rejected "childish" conceptions of God for an adult religion that focused on the significance of human suffering.[28][31]

Auden began summering in Europe in 1948, first in Ischia, Italy, where he rented a house, then, starting 1958, in Kirchstetten, Austria where he bought a farmhouse, and, he said, shed tears of joy at owning a home for the first time.[9]

W. H. Auden, 1970

In 1951, shortly before the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the USSR, Burgess attempted to phone Auden to arrange a vacation visit to Ischia that he had earlier discussed with Auden; Auden never returned the call and had no further contact with either spy, but a media frenzy ensued in which his name was mistakenly associated with their escape. The frenzy was repeated when the MI5 documents on the incident were released in 2007.[32][33]

In 1956–61, Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University where he was required to give three lectures each year. This fairly light workload allowed him to continue to winter in New York, where he now lived on St. Mark's Place, and to summer in Europe, spending only three weeks each year lecturing in Oxford. He now earned his income mostly by readings and lecture tours, and by writing for The New Yorker and other magazines.[11]

During his last years, his conversation became repetitive, to the disappointment of friends who had known him earlier as a witty and wide-ranging conversationalist.[9][34] In 1972, he moved his winter home from New York to Oxford, where his old college, Christ Church, offered him a cottage, but he continued to summer in Austria. He died in Vienna in 1973 and was buried in Kirchstetten.[9]

Work

Overview

Auden published about four hundred poems, including seven long poems (two of them book-length). His poetry was encyclopedic in scope and method, ranging in style from obscure twentieth-century modernism to the lucid traditional forms such as ballads and limericks, from doggerel through haiku and villanelles to a "Christmas Oratorio" and a baroque eclogue in Anglo-Saxon meters.[7] The tone and content of his poems ranged from pop-song clichés to complex philosophical meditations, from the corns on his toes to atoms and stars, from contemporary crises to the evolution of society.[4][23]

He also wrote more than four hundred essays and reviews about literature, history, politics, music, religion, and many other subjects. He collaborated on plays with Christopher Isherwood and on opera libretti with Chester Kallman, worked with a group of artists and filmmakers on documentary films in the 1930s and with the New York Pro Musica early music group in the 1950s and 1960s. About collaboration he wrote in 1964: "collaboration has brought me greater erotic joy . . . than any sexual relations I have had."[35]

Auden controversially rewrote or discarded some of his most famous poems when he prepared his later collected editions. He wrote that he rejected poems that he found "boring" or "dishonest" in the sense that they expressed views that he had never held but had used only because he felt they would be rhetorically effective.[36] His rejected poems include "Spain" and "September 1, 1939." His literary executor, Edward Mendelson, argues in his introduction to Auden's Selected Poems that Auden's practice reflected his sense of the persuasive power of poetry and his reluctance to misuse it.[37] (Selected Poems includes some poems that Auden rejected and early texts of poems that he revised.)

Early work, 1922–1939

Cover of the privately-printed Poems (1928)

Up to 1930

Auden began writing poems at thirteen, mostly in the styles of 19th-century romantic poets, especially Wordsworth, and later poets with rural interests, especially Thomas Hardy. At eighteen he discovered T. S. Eliot and adopted an extreme version of Eliot's style. He found his own voice at twenty, when he wrote the first poem later included in his collected work, "From the very first coming down."[23] This and other poems of the late 1920s tended to be in a clipped, elusive style that alluded to, but did not directly state, their themes of loneliness and loss. Twenty of these poems appeared in his first book Poems (1928), a pamphlet hand-printed by Stephen Spender.[38]

In 1928 he wrote his first dramatic work, Paid on Both Sides, subtitled "A Charade," which combined style and content from the Icelandic sagas with jokes from English school life. This mixture of tragedy and farce, with a dream play-within-the-play, introduced the mixed styles and content of much of his later work.[7] This drama and thirty short poems appeared in his first published book Poems (1930, 2nd edition with seven poems replaced, 1933); the poems in the book were mostly lyrical and gnomic mediations on hoped-for or unconsummated love and on themes of personal, social, and seasonal renewal; among these poems were "It was Easter as I walked," "Doom is dark," "Sir, no man's enemy," and "This lunar beauty."[23]

A recurrent theme in these early poems is the effect of "family ghosts", Auden's term for the powerful, unseen psychological effects of preceding generations on any individual life (and the title of a poem). A parallel theme, present throughout his work, is the contrast between biological evolution (unchosen and involuntary) and the psychological evolution of cultures and individuals (voluntary and deliberate even in its subconscious aspects).[7][23]

1931 to 1935

Auden's next large-scale work was The Orators: An English Study (1932; revised editions, 1934, 1966), in verse and prose, largely about hero-worship in personal and political life. In his shorter poems, his style became more open and accessible, and the exuberant "Six Odes" in The Orators reflect his new interest in Robert Burns.[7] During the next few years, many of his poems took their form and style from traditional ballads and popular songs, and also from expansive classical forms like the Odes of Horace, which he seems to have discovered through the German poet Hölderlin.[23] Around this time his main influences were Dante, William Langland, and Alexander Pope.[39]

Programme of a Group Theatre production of The Dance of Death, with unsigned synopsis by Auden

During these years, much of his work expressed left-wing views, and he became widely known as a political poet, although his work was more politically ambivalent than many reviewers recognized.[23] He generally wrote about revolutionary change in terms of a "change of heart", a transformation of a society from a closed-off psychology of fear to an open psychology of love.[10] His verse drama The Dance of Death (1933) was a political extravaganza in the style of a theatrical revue, which Auden later called "a nihilistic leg-pull."[40] His next play The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), written in collaboration with Isherwood, was similarly a quasi-Marxist updating of Gilbert and Sullivan in which the general idea of social transformation was more prominent than any specific political action or structure.[7][23]

The Ascent of F6 (1937), another play written with Isherwood, was partly an anti-imperialist satire, partly (in the character of the self-destroying climber Michael Ransom) an examination of Auden's own motives in taking on a public role as a political poet.[23] This play included the first version of "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks"), written as a satiric eulogy for a politician; Auden later rewrote the poem as a "Cabaret Song" about lost love (written to be sung by the soprano Hedli Anderson for whom he wrote many lyrics in the 1930s).[41] In 1935, he worked briefly on documentary films with the G.P.O. Film Unit, writing his famous verse commentary for Night Mail and lyrics for other films that were among his attempts in the 1930s to create a widely-accessible, socially-conscious art.[7][23][41]

1936 to 1939

These tendencies in style and content culminate in his collection Look, Stranger! (1936; his British publisher chose the title, which Auden hated; Auden retitled the 1937 US edition On This Island).[23] This book included political odes, love poems, comic songs, meditative lyrics, and a variety of intellectually intense but emotionally accessible verse. Among the poems included in the book, connected by themes of personal, social, and evolutionary change and of the possibilities and problems of personal love, were "Hearing of harvests", "Out on the lawn I lie in bed", "O what is that sound", "Look, stranger, on this island now" (later revised versions change "on" to "at"), and "Our hunting fathers."[7][23]

Auden was now arguing that an artist should be a kind of journalist, and he put this view into practice in Letters from Iceland (1937) a travel book in prose and verse written with Louis MacNeice, which included his long social, literary, and autobiographical commentary "Letter to Lord Byron."[42] In 1937, after observing the Spanish Civil War he wrote a politically-engaged pamphlet poem Spain (1937); he later discarded it from his collected works. Journey to a War (1939) a travel book in prose and verse, was written with Isherwood after their visit to the Sino-Japanese War.[42] Auden's last collaboration with Isherwood was their third play, On the Frontier, an anti-war satire written in Broadway and West End styles.[11][23]

Auden's themes in his shorter poems now included the fragility and transience of personal love ("Danse Macabre", "The Dream", "Lay your sleeping head"), a theme he treated with ironic wit in his "Four Cabaret Songs for Miss Hedli Anderson" (which included "O Tell Me the Truth About Love" and the revised version of "Funeral Blues"), and also the corrupting effect of public and official culture on individual lives ("Casino", "School Children", "Dover").[7][23] In 1938 he wrote a series of dark, ironic ballads about individual failure ("Miss Gee", "James Honeyman", "Victor"). All these appeared in his next book of verse, Another Time (1940), together with other famous poems such as "Dover", "As He Is", and "Musée des Beaux Arts" (all written before he moved to America in 1939), and "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", "The Unknown Citizen", "Law Like Love", "September 1, 1939", and "In Memory of Sigmund Freud" (written in America).[7] The elegies for Yeats and Freud are partly statements of Auden's anti-heroic theme, in which great deeds are performed, not by unique geniuses whom others cannot hope to imitate, but by otherwise ordinary individuals who were "silly like us" (Yeats) or of whom it could be said "he wasn't clever at all" (Freud), and who became teachers of others, not awe-inspiring heroes.[23]

Middle period, 1940–1957

1940 to 1946

In 1940 Auden wrote a long philosophical poem "New Year Letter", which appeared with miscellaneous notes and other poems in The Double Man (1941). At the time of his return to the Anglican Communion he began writing abstract verse on theological themes, such as "Canzone" and "Kairos and Logos." Around 1942, as he became more comfortable with religious themes, his verse became more open and relaxed, and he increasingly used the syllabic verse he learned from the poetry of Marianne Moore.[28]

His recurring themes in this period included the artist's temptation to use other persons as material for his art rather than valuing them for themselves ("Prospero to Ariel") and the corresponding moral obligation to make and keep commitments while recognizing the temptation to break them ("In Sickness and Health").[7][28] From 1942 through 1947 he worked mostly on three long poems in dramatic form, each differing from the others in form and content: "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio", "The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's The Tempest" (both published in For the Time Being, 1944), and The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (published separately 1947).[28] The first two, with Auden's other new poems from 1940–44, were included in his first collected edition, The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (1945), with most of his earlier poems, many in revised versions.[7]

1947 to 1957

After completing The Age of Anxiety in 1946 he focused again on shorter poems, notably "A Walk After Dark," "The Love Feast", and "The Fall of Rome."[28] Many of these evoked the Italian village where he summered in 1948-57, and his next book, Nones (1951), had a Mediterranean atmosphere new to his work. A new theme was the "sacred importance" of the human body[43] in its ordinary aspect (breathing, sleeping, eating) and the continuity with nature that the body made possible (in contrast to the division between humanity and nature that he had emphasized in the 1930s); his poems on these themes included "In Praise of Limestone" and "Memorial for the City."[7][28] In 1949 Auden and Kallman wrote the libretto for Igor Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress, and later collaborated on two libretti for operas by Hans Werner Henze.[9][44]

Auden's first separate prose book was The Enchafèd Flood: The Romantic Iconography of the Sea (1950), based on a series of lectures on the image of the sea in romantic literature.[45] Between 1949 and 1954 he worked on a sequence of seven Good Friday poems, "Horae Canonicae", an encyclopedic survey of geological, biological, cultural, and personal history, focused on the irreversible act of murder; the poem was also a study in cyclical and linear ideas of time. While writing this, he also wrote a sequence of seven poems about man's relation to nature, "Bucolics." Both sequences appeared in his next book, The Shield of Achilles (1955), with other short poems, including the book's title poem, "Fleet Visit", and "Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier."[7][28]

Extending the themes of "Horae Canonicae", in 1955–56 he wrote a group of poems about "history," the term he used to mean the set of unique events made by human choices, as opposed to "nature," the set of involuntary events created by natural processes, statistics, and anonymous forces such as crowds. These poems included "T the Great", "The Maker", and the title poem of his next collection Homage to Clio (1960).[7][28]

Later work, 1958–1973

In the late 1950s Auden's style became less rhetorical while its range of styles increased. In 1958, having moved his summer home from Italy to Austria, he wrote "Good-bye to the Mezzogiorno"; other poems from this period include "Dichtung und Wahrheit: An Unwritten Poem", a prose poem about the relation between love and personal and poetic language, and the contrasting "Dame Kind", about the anonymous impersonal reproductive instinct. These and other poems, including his 1955–66 poems about history, appeared in Homage to Clio (1960).[7][28]

His prose book The Dyer's Hand (1962) gathered many of the lectures he gave in Oxford as Professor of Poetry in 1956–61, together with revised versions of essays and notes written since the mid-1940s.[28]

While translating the haiku and other verse in Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings, Auden began using haiku for many of his poems.[28] A sequence of fifteen poems about his house in Austria, "Thanksgiving for a Habitat", appeared in About the House (1965), with other poems that included his reflections on his lecture tours, "On the Circuit."[7] In the late 1960s he wrote some of his most vigorous poems, including "River Profile" and two poems that looked back over his life, "Prologue at Sixty" and "Forty Years On." All these appeared in City Without Walls (1969). His lifelong passion for Icelandic legend culminated in his verse translation of The Elder Edda (1969).[7][28]

He was commissioned in 1963 to write lyrics for the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, but the producer rejected them as insufficiently romantic.[44] In 1971 Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant commissioned Auden to write the words, and Pablo Casals to compose the music, for a "Hymn to the United Nations", but the work had no official status.[46]

A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970) was a kind of self-portrait made up of favorite quotations with commentary, arranged in alphabetical order by subject. His last prose book was a selection of essays and reviews, Forewords and Afterwords (1973).[9] His last books of verse, Epistle to a Godson (1972) and the unfinished Thank You, Fog (published posthumously, 1974) include reflective poems about language ("Natural Linguistics") and about his own aging ("A New Year Greeting", "Talking to Myself", "A Lullaby" ["The din of work is subdued"]). His last completed poem, in haiku form, was "Archeology", about ritual and timelessness, two recurring themes in his later years.[28]

Reputation and influence

Auden's stature in modern literature has been disputed, with opinions ranging from that of Hugh MacDiarmid, who called him "a complete wash-out", to the obituarist in The Times (London), who wrote: "W. H. Auden, for long the enfant terrible of English poetry . . . emerges as its undisputed master."[47]

In his enfant terrible stage in the 1930s he was both praised and dismissed as a progressive and accessible voice, in contrast to the politically nostalgic and poetically obscure voice of T. S. Eliot. His departure for America in 1939 was hotly debated in Britain (once even in Parliament), with some critics treating it as a betrayal, and the role of influential young poet passed to Dylan Thomas, although defenders such as Geoffrey Grigson, in an introduction to a 1949 anthology of modern poetry, wrote that Auden "arches over all." His stature was suggested by book titles such as Auden and After by Francis Scarfe (1942) and The Auden Generation by Samuel Hynes (1972).[4]

In the US, starting in the late 1930s, the detached, ironic tone of Auden's regular stanzas set the style for a whole generation of poets; John Ashbery recalled that in the 1940s Auden "was the modern poet."[47] His manner was so pervasive in American poetry that the ecstatic style of the Beat Generation was partly a reaction against his influence. In the 1950s and 1960s, some writers (notably Philip Larkin and Randall Jarrell) lamented that Auden's work had declined from its earlier promise.[47][48]

By the time of Auden's death in 1973 he had attained the status of a respected elder statesman. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that "by the time of Eliot's death in 1965 ... a convincing case could be made for the assertion that Auden was indeed Eliot's successor, as Eliot had inherited sole claim to supremacy when Yeats died in 1939."[49] With some exceptions, British critics tended to treat his early work as his best, while American critics tended to favor his middle and later work. Unlike other modern poets, his reputation did not decline after his death, and Joseph Brodsky wrote that his was "the greatest mind of the twentieth century."[6]

Auden's popularity and familiarity suddenly increased after his "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks") was read aloud in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); subsequently, a pamphlet edition of ten of his poems, Tell Me the Truth About Love, sold more than 275,000 copies. After September 11, 2001, his poem "September 1, 1939" was widely circulated and frequently broadcast.[47] Public readings and broadcast tributes in the UK and US in 2007 marked his centenary year.[50]

Published works

The following list includes only the books of poems and essays that Auden prepared during his lifetime; for a more complete list, including other works and posthumous editions, see W. H. Auden bibliography.

In the list below, works reprinted in the Complete Works of W. H. Auden are indicated by footnote references.

Books

Film scripts and opera libretti

Notes

  1. ^ The first syllable of "Auden" rhymes with "law" (not with "how").
  2. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 478. ISBN 0-691-08935-3.  Auden used the phrase "Anglo-American Poets" in 1943, implicitly referring to himself and T. S. Eliot.
  3. ^ The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED (2008 revision) is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England (or Britain) and America." "Oxford English Dictionary (access by subscription)". http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50008500?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=Anglo-American&first=1&max_to_show=10. Retrieved 2009-05-25.  See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in Chambers 20th Century Dictionary. 1983. p. 45.  See also the definition "an American, especially a citizen of the United States, of English origin or descent" in Merriam Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition. 1961. p. 103.  See also the definition "a native or descendant of a native of England who has settled in or become a citizen of America, esp. of the United States" from The Random House Dictionary, 2009, available online at "Dictionary.com". http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Anglo-American. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d Smith, Stan, ed. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82962-3. 
  5. ^ Academy of American Poets. "W. H. Auden". http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/120. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  6. ^ a b Brodksy, Joseph (1986). Less Than One: selected essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 357. ISBN 0-374-18503-4. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Fuller, John (1998). W. H. Auden: a commentary. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-19268-8. 
  8. ^ The name Wystan derives from the 9th century St Wystan, who was murdered by Beorhtwulf, king of Mercia, after Wystan objected to Beorthtwulf's plan to marry Wystan's mother. His remains were reburied at Repton, Derbyshire, where they became the object of a cult; the parish church of Repton is named St Wystan's. Auden's father, George Augustus Auden, was educated at Repton School.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Carpenter, Humphrey (1981). W. H. Auden: A Biography. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-049-28044-9. 
  10. ^ a b c Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. "Auden, Wystan Hugh" (Subscription access only). http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30775. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  12. ^ In "Letter to Lord Byron" he names the saga character Auðun Skökull as one of his ancestors.
  13. ^ Auden, W. H; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). In Solitude, For Company: W. H. Auden after 1940, unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 193. ISBN 0-19-818294-5. 
  14. ^ Auden, W. H. (1993). The Prolific and the Devourer. New York: Ecco. pp. 10. ISBN 0-88001-345-1. 
  15. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 517. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  16. ^ The Times, July 5, 1922 (Issue 43075), p. 12, col. D
  17. ^ Wright, Hugh, Auden and Gresham's in Conference Common Room, Vol. 44, No. 2, Summer 2007 online at schoolsearch.co.uk (accessed 25 April 2008)
  18. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell (1994). Juvenilia: Poems, 1922-1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03415-X. 
  19. ^ The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934) title details at books.google.com
  20. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. pp. ch. 3. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  21. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 69. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  22. ^ Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 35. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Mendelson, Edward (1981). Early Auden. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-28712-1. 
  24. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1996). Prose and travel books in prose and verse, Volume I: 1926–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 138. ISBN 0-691-06803-8. 
  25. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). In Solitude, For Company: W. H. Auden after 1940, unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 88. ISBN 0-19-818294-5. 
  26. ^ Lissner, Will. "Poet and Judge Assist a Samaritan." New York Times, 2 March 1956, pp. 1, 39.
  27. ^ Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 46. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  29. ^ Tippins, Sherrill (2005). February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-41911-X. 
  30. ^ Pike, James A., ed., (1956). Modern Canterbury Pilgrims. New York: Morehouse-Gorham. pp. 42. 
  31. ^ a b Kirsch, Arthur (2005). Auden and Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10814-1. 
  32. ^ "BBC report on release of MI5 file on Auden". 2007-03-02. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6407793.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  33. ^ Mendelson, Edward. "Clouseau Investigates Auden". http://audensociety.org/investigation.html. 
  34. ^ Clark, Thekla (1995). Wystan and Chester: a personal memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17591-0. 
  35. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. pp. 137. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  36. ^ Auden, W. H. (1966). Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 15. ISBN 0-571-06878-2. 
  37. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1979). Selected Poems, new edition. New York: Vintage Books. xix-xx. ISBN 0-394-72506-9. 
  38. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell (1994). Juvenilia: Poems, 1922–1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03415-X. 
  39. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 92. ISBN 0-691-08935-3. 
  40. ^ Auden, W. H. and Christopher Isherwood; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1988). Plays and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1928–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. xxi. ISBN 0-691-06740-6. 
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h Auden, W. H. and Christopher Isherwood; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1988). Plays and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1928–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-06740-6. 
  42. ^ a b c d Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1996). Prose and travel books in prose and verse, Volume I: 1926–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-06803-8. 
  43. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 68. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  44. ^ a b c d e f g Auden, W. H. and Chester Kallman; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1993). Libretti and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1939–1973. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03301-3. 
  45. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08935-3. 
  46. ^ United Nations - Fact Sheet # 9: "Does the UN have a hymn or national anthem?"
  47. ^ a b c d Sansom, Ian (2004). "Auden and Influence". in Stan Smith. The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 226–39. ISBN 0-521-82962-3. 
  48. ^ Haffenden, John (1983). W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-9350-0. 
  49. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica Article: W. H. Auden". http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9011216/W-H-Auden. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  50. ^ The W. H. Auden Society. "The Auden Centenary 2007". http://audensociety.org/news.html. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 

References

Printed sources

See also the listings on the criticism page at the W. H. Auden Society web site. In the list below, unless noted, publication data and ISBN refer to the first editions; many titles are also available in later reprints.

Bibliography

  • Bloomfield, B. C., and Edward Mendelson (1972). W. H. Auden: A Bibliography 1924–1969. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-0395-5. See post-1969 supplements in Auden Studies series listed below.

General biographical and critical studies

  • Carpenter, Humphrey (1981). W. H. Auden: A Biography. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-049-28044-9.
  • Clark, Thekla (1995). Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17591-0.
  • Davenport-Hines, Richard (1996). Auden. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-17507-2.
  • Farnan, Dorothy J. (1984). Auden in Love. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-50418-5.
  • Fuller, John (1998). W. H. Auden: A Commentary. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-19268-8.
  • Hecht, Anthony (1993). The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W.H. Auden. Cambridge (Mass.): Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-39006-7.
  • Mendelson, Edward (1981). Early Auden. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-28712-1.
  • Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-18408-9.
  • Osborne, Charles (1979). W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet. London: Eyre Methuen. ISBN 978-0871317889
  • Smith, Stan, ed. (2005). The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82962-3.
  • Spears, Monroe K. (1963). The Poetry of W. H. Auden: The Disenchanted Island. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Spender, Stephen, ed. (1975). W. H. Auden: A Tribute. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson. ISBN 0-297-76884-0.
  • Wright, George T. (1969; rev. ed. 1981). W. H. Auden. Boston: Twayne. ISBN 0-8057-7346-0.

Special topics

  • Haffenden, John, ed. (1983). W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-710-09350-0. Selected reviews of Auden's books and plays.
  • Kirsch, Arthur (2005). Auden and Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10814-1.
  • Mitchell, Donald (1981), Britten and Auden in the Thirties: the year 1936. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-11715-5.
  • Myers, Alan, and Robert Forsythe (1999), W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet . Nenthead: North Pennines Heritage Trust. ISBN 0-9513535-78. Pamphlet with map and gazetteer.

Auden Studies series

  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1990) "The Map of All My Youth": early works, friends and influences (Auden Studies 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812964-5.
  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1994). "The Language of Learning and the Language of Love": uncollected writings, new interpretations (Auden Studies 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812257-8.
  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). "In Solitude, For Company": W. H. Auden after 1940: unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-818294-5.

External links

See also the descriptive list on the links page at the W. H. Auden Society web site.


W.H. Auden
Born February 21, 1907(1907-02-21)
York, England
Died 29 September 1973 (aged 66)
Vienna, Austria
Nationality British from birth; American from 1946
Ethnicity English
Education M.A. English language and literature
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford
Occupation Poet
Relatives George Augustus Auden (father), Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden (mother), George Bernard Auden (brother), John Bicknell Auden (brother)

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973, pronounced /ˈwɪstən ˈhjuː ˈɔːdən/)[1] who published as W. H. Auden, was an Anglo-American poet,[2][3] born in England, later an American citizen, regarded by many as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century.[4] His work is noted for its stylistic and technical achievements, its engagement with moral and political issues, and its variety of tone, form and content.[5][6] The central themes of his poetry are love, politics and citizenship, religion and morals, and the relationship between unique human beings and the anonymous, impersonal world of nature.

Auden grew up in Birmingham in a professional middle class family and read English literature at Christ Church, Oxford. His early poems, written in the late 1920s and early 1930s, alternated between telegraphic modern styles and fluent traditional ones, were written in an intense and dramatic tone, and established his reputation as a left-wing political poet and prophet. He became uncomfortable in this role in the later 1930s, and abandoned it after he moved to the United States in 1939, where he became an American citizen in 1946. His poems in the 1940s explored religious and ethical themes in a less dramatic manner than his earlier works, but still combined traditional forms and styles with new forms devised by Auden himself. In the 1950s and 1960s many of his poems focused on the ways in which words revealed and concealed emotions, and he took a particular interest in writing opera librettos, a form ideally suited to direct expression of strong feelings.[7]

He was also a prolific writer of prose essays and reviews on literary, political, psychological and religious subjects, and he worked at various times on documentary films, poetic plays and other forms of performance. Throughout his career he was both controversial and influential. After his death, some of his poems, notably "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks") and "September 1, 1939", became widely known through films, broadcasts and popular media.[4]

Contents

Life

Childhood

Auden was born in York, England, to George Augustus Auden, a physician, and Constance Rosalie Bicknell Auden, who had trained (but never served) as a missionary nurse.[8] He was the third of three children, all sons; the eldest, George Bernard Auden, became a farmer, while the second, John Bicknell Auden, became a geologist. Auden's grandfathers were both Church of England clergymen; he grew up in an Anglo-Catholic household which followed a "High" form of Anglicanism with doctrine and ritual resembling those of Roman Catholicism.[9][10] He traced his love of music and language partly to the church services of his childhood.[11] He believed he was of Icelandic descent, and his lifelong fascination with Icelandic legends and Old Norse sagas is visible throughout his work.[12]

In 1908 his family moved to Harborne, Birmingham, where his father had been appointed the School Medical Officer and Lecturer (later Professor) of Public Health; Auden's lifelong psychoanalytic interests began in his father's library. From the age of eight he attended boarding schools, returning home for holidays.[9] His visits to the Pennine landscape and its declining lead-mining industry figure in many of his poems; the remote decaying mining village of Rookhope was for him a "sacred landscape", evoked in a late poem, "Amor Loci."[13] Until he was fifteen he expected to become a mining engineer, but his passion for words had already begun. He wrote later: "words so excite me that a pornographic story, for example, excites me sexually more than a living person can do."[14]

Education

Auden's first boarding school was St. Edmund's School, Surrey, where he met Christopher Isherwood, later famous in his own right as a novelist. At thirteen he went to Gresham's School in Norfolk; there, in 1922, when his friend Robert Medley asked him if he wrote poetry, Auden first realized his vocation was to be a poet.[9] Soon after, he "discover(ed) that he (had) lost his faith" (through a gradual realisation that he had lost interest in religion, not through any decisive change of views).[15] In school productions of Shakespeare, he played Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew in 1922[16], and Caliban in The Tempest in 1925, his last year at Gresham's.[17] His first published poems appeared in the school magazine in 1923.[18] Auden later wrote a chapter on Gresham's for Graham Greene's The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (1934).[19]

In 1925 he went to Christ Church, Oxford, with a scholarship in biology, but he switched to English by his second year. Friends he met at Oxford included Cecil Day Lewis, Louis MacNeice, and Stephen Spender; these four were commonly though misleadingly identified in the 1930s as the "Auden Group" for their shared (but not identical) left-wing views. Auden left Oxford in 1928 with a third-class degree.[9][11]

He was reintroduced to Christopher Isherwood in 1925; for the next few years Isherwood was his literary mentor to whom he sent poems for comments and criticism. Auden probably fell in love with Isherwood and in the 1930s they maintained a sexual friendship in intervals between their relations with others. In 1935–39 they collaborated on three plays and a travel book.[20]

From his Oxford years onward, his friends uniformly described him as funny, extravagant, sympathetic, generous, and, partly by his own choice, lonely. In groups he was often dogmatic and overbearing in a comic way; in more private settings he was diffident and shy except when certain of his welcome. He was punctual in his habits, and obsessive about meeting deadlines, while choosing to live amidst physical disorder.[10]

Britain and Europe, 1928–1938

In the autumn of 1928 Auden left Britain for nine months in Weimar Berlin, partly to rebel against English repressiveness in a city where homosexuality was widely tolerated. In Berlin, he said, he first experienced the political and economic unrest that became one of his central subjects.[11]

On returning to Britain in 1929, he worked briefly as a tutor. In 1930 his first published book, Poems (1930), was accepted by T. S. Eliot for Faber and Faber; the firm also published all his later books. In 1930 he began five years as a schoolmaster in boys' schools: two years at the Larchfield Academy, in Helensburgh, Scotland, then three years at The Downs School, in the Malvern Hills, where he was a much-loved teacher.[9] At the Downs, in June 1933, he experienced what he later described as a "Vision of Agape," when, while sitting with three fellow-teachers at the school, he suddenly found that he loved them for themselves, that their existence had infinite value for him; this experience, he said, later influenced his decision to return to the Anglican Church in 1940.[21]

During these years, Auden's erotic interests focused, as he later said, on an idealized "Alter Ego"[22] rather than on individual persons. His relations (and his unsuccessful courtships) tended to be unequal either in age or intelligence; his sexual relations were transient, although some evolved into long friendships. He contrasted these relations with what he later regarded as the "marriage" (his word) of equals that he began with Chester Kallman in 1939 (see below), based on the unique individuality of both partners.[23] ; scene possibly directed by Auden]] From 1935 until he left Britain early in 1939, Auden worked as freelance reviewer, essayist, and lecturer, first with the G.P.O. Film Unit, a documentary film-making branch of the post office, headed by John Grierson. Through his work for the Film Unit in 1935 he met and collaborated with Benjamin Britten, with whom he also worked on plays, song cycles, and a libretto. Auden's plays in the 1930s were performed by the Group Theatre, in productions that he supervised to varying degrees.[11]

His work now reflected his belief that any good artist must be "more than a bit of a reporting journalist."[24] In 1936 he spent three months in Iceland, where he gathered material for a travel book Letters from Iceland (1937), written in collaboration with Louis MacNeice. In 1937 he went to Spain intending to drive an ambulance for the Republic in the Spanish Civil War, but was put to work broadcasting propaganda, a job he left in order to visit the front. His seven-week visit to Spain affected him deeply, and his social views grew more complex as he found political realities to be more ambiguous and troubling than he had imagined.[9][23] Again attempting to combine reportage and art, he and Isherwood spent six months in 1938 visiting the Sino-Japanese War, working on their book Journey to a War (1939). On their way back to England they stayed briefly in New York and decided to move to the United States. Auden spent the autumn of 1938 partly in England, partly in Brussels.[9]

Many of his poems during the 1930s and afterward were inspired by unconsummated love, and in the 1950s he summarized his emotional life in a famous couplet: "If equal affection cannot be / Let the more loving one be me" ("The More Loving One"). He had a gift for friendship and, starting in the late 1930s, a strong wish for the stability of marriage; in a letter to his friend James Stern he called marriage "the only subject."[25] Throughout his life, he performed charitable acts, sometimes in public (as in his marriage of convenience to Erika Mann in 1935 that gave her a British passport with which to escape the Nazis[9]), but, especially in later years, more often in private, and he was embarrassed if they were publicly revealed, as when his gift to his friend Dorothy Day for the Catholic Worker movement was reported on the front page of The New York Times in 1956.[26]

United States and Europe, 1939–1973

Auden and Isherwood sailed to New York in January 1939, entering on temporary visas. Their departure from Britain was later seen by many there as a betrayal and Auden's reputation suffered.[9] In April 1939 Isherwood moved to California, and he and Auden saw each other only intermittently in later years. Around this time, Auden met the poet Chester Kallman, who became his lover for the next two years (Auden described their relation as a "marriage" that began with a cross-country "honeymoon" journey).[27] In 1941 Kallman ended their sexual relations because he could not accept Auden's insistence on a mutual faithful relationship, but he and Auden remained companions for the rest of Auden's life, sharing houses and apartments from 1953 until Auden's death. Auden dedicated both editions of his collected poetry (1945/50 and 1966) to Isherwood and Kallman.[28]

File:Isherwood and Auden by Carl van Vechten,
Christopher Isherwood (left) and W.H. Auden (right) photographed by Carl Van Vechten, February 6, 1939

In 1940–41, Auden lived in a house in Brooklyn Heights which he shared with Carson McCullers, Benjamin Britten, and others, and which became a famous center of artistic life.[29] In 1940, he joined the Episcopal Church, returning to the Anglican Communion he had abandoned at thirteen. His reconversion was influenced partly by what he called the "sainthood" of Charles Williams,[30] whom he had met in 1937, partly by reading Søren Kierkegaard and Reinhold Niebuhr; his existential, this-worldly Christianity became a central element in his life.[31]

After Britain declared war on Germany in September 1939 Auden told the British embassy in Washington that he would return to the UK if needed, but was told that, among those his age (32), only qualified personnel were needed. In 1941–42 he taught English at the University of Michigan. He was called up to be drafted in the United States Army in August 1942, but was rejected on medical grounds. He had been awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship for 1942-43, but did not use it, choosing instead to teach at Swarthmore College in 1942–45.[9]

In the summer of 1945, after the end of World War II in Europe, he was in Germany with the U. S. Strategic Bombing Survey, studying the effects of Allied bombing on German morale, an experience that affected his postwar work as his visit to Spain had affected him earlier.[28] On his return, he settled in Manhattan, working as a freelance writer, and as a lecturer at The New School for Social Research and a visiting professor at Bennington, Smith, and other American colleges. In 1946 he became a naturalized citizen of the US.[9][11]

His theology in his later years evolved from a highly inward and psychologically oriented Protestantism in the early 1940s to a more Roman Catholic-oriented interest in the significance of the body and in collective ritual in the later 1940s and 1950s, and finally to the theology of Dietrich Bonhoeffer which rejected "childish" conceptions of God for an adult religion that focused on the significance of human suffering.[28][31]

Auden began summering in Europe in 1948, first in Ischia, Italy, where he rented a house, then, starting 1958, in Kirchstetten, Austria where he bought a farmhouse, and, he said, shed tears of joy at owning a home for the first time.[9]

In 1951, shortly before the two British spies Guy Burgess and Donald Maclean fled to the USSR, Burgess attempted to phone Auden to arrange a vacation visit to Ischia that he had earlier discussed with Auden; Auden never returned the call and had no further contact with either spy, but a media frenzy ensued in which his name was mistakenly associated with their escape. The frenzy was repeated when the MI5 documents on the incident were released in 2007.[32][33]

In 1956–61, Auden was Professor of Poetry at Oxford University where he was required to give three lectures each year. This fairly light workload allowed him to continue to winter in New York, where he now lived on St. Mark's Place, and to summer in Europe, spending only three weeks each year lecturing in Oxford. He now earned his income mostly by readings and lecture tours, and by writing for The New Yorker and other magazines.[11]

During his last years, his conversation became repetitive, to the disappointment of friends who had known him earlier as a witty and wide-ranging conversationalist.[9][34] In 1972, he moved his winter home from New York to Oxford, where his old college, Christ Church, offered him a cottage, but he continued to summer in Austria. He died in Vienna in 1973 and was buried in Kirchstetten.[9]

Work

Overview

Auden published about four hundred poems, including seven long poems (two of them book-length). His poetry was encyclopedic in scope and method, ranging in style from obscure twentieth-century modernism to the lucid traditional forms such as ballads and limericks, from doggerel through haiku and villanelles to a "Christmas Oratorio" and a baroque eclogue in Anglo-Saxon meters.[7] The tone and content of his poems ranged from pop-song clichés to complex philosophical meditations, from the corns on his toes to atoms and stars, from contemporary crises to the evolution of society.[4][23]

He also wrote more than four hundred essays and reviews about literature, history, politics, music, religion, and many other subjects. He collaborated on plays with Christopher Isherwood and on opera libretti with Chester Kallman, worked with a group of artists and filmmakers on documentary films in the 1930s and with the New York Pro Musica early music group in the 1950s and 1960s. About collaboration he wrote in 1964: "collaboration has brought me greater erotic joy . . . than any sexual relations I have had."[35]

Auden controversially rewrote or discarded some of his most famous poems when he prepared his later collected editions. He wrote that he rejected poems that he found "boring" or "dishonest" in the sense that they expressed views that he had never held but had used only because he felt they would be rhetorically effective.[36] His rejected poems include "Spain" and "September 1, 1939". His literary executor, Edward Mendelson, argues in his introduction to Auden's Selected Poems that Auden's practice reflected his sense of the persuasive power of poetry and his reluctance to misuse it.[37] (Selected Poems includes some poems that Auden rejected and early texts of poems that he revised.)

Early work, 1922–1939

(1928)]]

Up to 1930

Auden began writing poems at thirteen, mostly in the styles of 19th-century romantic poets, especially Wordsworth, and later poets with rural interests, especially Thomas Hardy. At eighteen he discovered T. S. Eliot and adopted an extreme version of Eliot's style. He found his own voice at twenty, when he wrote the first poem later included in his collected work, "From the very first coming down."[23] This and other poems of the late 1920s tended to be in a clipped, elusive style that alluded to, but did not directly state, their themes of loneliness and loss. Twenty of these poems appeared in his first book Poems (1928), a pamphlet hand-printed by Stephen Spender.[38]

In 1928 he wrote his first dramatic work, Paid on Both Sides, subtitled "A Charade," which combined style and content from the Icelandic sagas with jokes from English school life. This mixture of tragedy and farce, with a dream play-within-the-play, introduced the mixed styles and content of much of his later work.[7] This drama and thirty short poems appeared in his first published book Poems (1930, 2nd edition with seven poems replaced, 1933); the poems in the book were mostly lyrical and gnomic mediations on hoped-for or unconsummated love and on themes of personal, social, and seasonal renewal; among these poems were "It was Easter as I walked," "Doom is dark," "Sir, no man's enemy," and "This lunar beauty."[23]

A recurrent theme in these early poems is the effect of "family ghosts", Auden's term for the powerful, unseen psychological effects of preceding generations on any individual life (and the title of a poem). A parallel theme, present throughout his work, is the contrast between biological evolution (unchosen and involuntary) and the psychological evolution of cultures and individuals (voluntary and deliberate even in its subconscious aspects).[7][23]

1931 to 1935

Auden's next large-scale work was The Orators: An English Study (1932; revised editions, 1934, 1966), in verse and prose, largely about hero-worship in personal and political life. In his shorter poems, his style became more open and accessible, and the exuberant "Six Odes" in The Orators reflect his new interest in Robert Burns.[7] During the next few years, many of his poems took their form and style from traditional ballads and popular songs, and also from expansive classical forms like the Odes of Horace, which he seems to have discovered through the German poet Hölderlin.[23] Around this time his main influences were Dante, William Langland, and Alexander Pope.[39] , with unsigned synopsis by Auden]] During these years, much of his work expressed left-wing views, and he became widely known as a political poet, although his work was more politically ambivalent than many reviewers recognized.[23] He generally wrote about revolutionary change in terms of a "change of heart", a transformation of a society from a closed-off psychology of fear to an open psychology of love.[10] His verse drama The Dance of Death (1933) was a political extravaganza in the style of a theatrical revue, which Auden later called "a nihilistic leg-pull."[40] His next play The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935), written in collaboration with Isherwood, was similarly a quasi-Marxist updating of Gilbert and Sullivan in which the general idea of social transformation was more prominent than any specific political action or structure.[7][23]

The Ascent of F6 (1937), another play written with Isherwood, was partly an anti-imperialist satire, partly (in the character of the self-destroying climber Michael Ransom) an examination of Auden's own motives in taking on a public role as a political poet.[23] This play included the first version of "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks"), written as a satiric eulogy for a politician; Auden later rewrote the poem as a "Cabaret Song" about lost love (written to be sung by the soprano Hedli Anderson for whom he wrote many lyrics in the 1930s).[41] In 1935, he worked briefly on documentary films with the G.P.O. Film Unit, writing his famous verse commentary for Night Mail and lyrics for other films that were among his attempts in the 1930s to create a widely-accessible, socially-conscious art.[7][23][41]

1936 to 1939

These tendencies in style and content culminate in his collection Look, Stranger! (1936; his British publisher chose the title, which Auden hated; Auden retitled the 1937 US edition On This Island).[23] This book included political odes, love poems, comic songs, meditative lyrics, and a variety of intellectually intense but emotionally accessible verse. Among the poems included in the book, connected by themes of personal, social, and evolutionary change and of the possibilities and problems of personal love, were "Hearing of harvests", "Out on the lawn I lie in bed", "O what is that sound", "Look, stranger, on this island now" (later revised versions change "on" to "at"), and "Our hunting fathers."[7][23]

Auden was now arguing that an artist should be a kind of journalist, and he put this view into practice in Letters from Iceland (1937) a travel book in prose and verse written with Louis MacNeice, which included his long social, literary, and autobiographical commentary "Letter to Lord Byron."[42] In 1937, after observing the Spanish Civil War he wrote a politically-engaged pamphlet poem Spain (1937); he later discarded it from his collected works. Journey to a War (1939) a travel book in prose and verse, was written with Isherwood after their visit to the Sino-Japanese War.[42] Auden's last collaboration with Isherwood was their third play, On the Frontier, an anti-war satire written in Broadway and West End styles.[11][23]

Auden's themes in his shorter poems now included the fragility and transience of personal love ("Danse Macabre", "The Dream", "Lay your sleeping head"), a theme he treated with ironic wit in his "Four Cabaret Songs for Miss Hedli Anderson" (which included "O Tell Me the Truth About Love" and the revised version of "Funeral Blues"), and also the corrupting effect of public and official culture on individual lives ("Casino", "School Children", "Dover").[7][23] In 1938 he wrote a series of dark, ironic ballads about individual failure ("Miss Gee", "James Honeyman", "Victor"). All these appeared in his next book of verse, Another Time (1940), together with other famous poems such as "Dover", "As He Is", and "Musée des Beaux Arts" (all written before he moved to America in 1939), and "In Memory of W. B. Yeats", "The Unknown Citizen", "Law Like Love", "September 1, 1939", and "In Memory of Sigmund Freud" (written in America).[7] The elegies for Yeats and Freud are partly statements of Auden's anti-heroic theme, in which great deeds are performed, not by unique geniuses whom others cannot hope to imitate, but by otherwise ordinary individuals who were "silly like us" (Yeats) or of whom it could be said "he wasn't clever at all" (Freud), and who became teachers of others, not awe-inspiring heroes.[23]

Middle period, 1940–1957

1940 to 1946

In 1940 Auden wrote a long philosophical poem "New Year Letter", which appeared with miscellaneous notes and other poems in The Double Man (1941). At the time of his return to the Anglican Communion he began writing abstract verse on theological themes, such as "Canzone" and "Kairos and Logos." Around 1942, as he became more comfortable with religious themes, his verse became more open and relaxed, and he increasingly used the syllabic verse he learned from the poetry of Marianne Moore.[28]

His recurring themes in this period included the artist's temptation to use other persons as material for his art rather than valuing them for themselves ("Prospero to Ariel") and the corresponding moral obligation to make and keep commitments while recognizing the temptation to break them ("In Sickness and Health").[7][28] From 1942 through 1947 he worked mostly on three long poems in dramatic form, each differing from the others in form and content: "For the Time Being: A Christmas Oratorio", "The Sea and the Mirror: A Commentary on Shakespeare's The Tempest" (both published in For the Time Being, 1944), and The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue (published separately 1947).[28] The first two, with Auden's other new poems from 1940–44, were included in his first collected edition, The Collected Poetry of W. H. Auden (1945), with most of his earlier poems, many in revised versions.[7]

1947 to 1957

After completing The Age of Anxiety in 1946 he focused again on shorter poems, notably "A Walk After Dark," "The Love Feast", and "The Fall of Rome."[28] Many of these evoked the Italian village where he summered in 1948-57, and his next book, Nones (1951), had a Mediterranean atmosphere new to his work. A new theme was the "sacred importance" of the human body[43] in its ordinary aspect (breathing, sleeping, eating) and the continuity with nature that the body made possible (in contrast to the division between humanity and nature that he had emphasized in the 1930s); his poems on these themes included "In Praise of Limestone" and "Memorial for the City."[7][28] In 1949 Auden and Kallman wrote the libretto for Igor Stravinsky's opera The Rake's Progress, and later collaborated on two libretti for operas by Hans Werner Henze.[9][44]

Auden's first separate prose book was The Enchafèd Flood: The Romantic Iconography of the Sea (1950), based on a series of lectures on the image of the sea in romantic literature.[45] Between 1949 and 1954 he worked on a sequence of seven Good Friday poems, "Horae Canonicae", an encyclopedic survey of geological, biological, cultural, and personal history, focused on the irreversible act of murder; the poem was also a study in cyclical and linear ideas of time. While writing this, he also wrote a sequence of seven poems about man's relation to nature, "Bucolics." Both sequences appeared in his next book, The Shield of Achilles (1955), with other short poems, including the book's title poem, "Fleet Visit", and "Epitaph for the Unknown Soldier."[7][28]

Extending the themes of "Horae Canonicae", in 1955–56 he wrote a group of poems about "history," the term he used to mean the set of unique events made by human choices, as opposed to "nature," the set of involuntary events created by natural processes, statistics, and anonymous forces such as crowds. These poems included "T the Great", "The Maker", and the title poem of his next collection Homage to Clio (1960).[7][28]

Later work, 1958–1973

In the late 1950s Auden's style became less rhetorical while its range of styles increased. In 1958, having moved his summer home from Italy to Austria, he wrote "Good-bye to the Mezzogiorno"; other poems from this period include "Dichtung und Wahrheit: An Unwritten Poem", a prose poem about the relation between love and personal and poetic language, and the contrasting "Dame Kind", about the anonymous impersonal reproductive instinct. These and other poems, including his 1955–66 poems about history, appeared in Homage to Clio (1960).[7][28]

His prose book The Dyer's Hand (1962) gathered many of the lectures he gave in Oxford as Professor of Poetry in 1956–61, together with revised versions of essays and notes written since the mid-1940s.[28]

While translating the haiku and other verse in Dag Hammarskjöld's Markings, Auden began using haiku for many of his poems.[28] A sequence of fifteen poems about his house in Austria, "Thanksgiving for a Habitat", appeared in About the House (1965), with other poems that included his reflections on his lecture tours, "On the Circuit."[7] In the late 1960s he wrote some of his most vigorous poems, including "River Profile" and two poems that looked back over his life, "Prologue at Sixty" and "Forty Years On." All these appeared in City Without Walls (1969). His lifelong passion for Icelandic legend culminated in his verse translation of The Elder Edda (1969).[7][28]

He was commissioned in 1963 to write lyrics for the Broadway musical Man of La Mancha, but the producer rejected them as insufficiently romantic.[44] In 1971 Secretary-General of the United Nations U Thant commissioned Auden to write the words, and Pablo Casals to compose the music, for a "Hymn to the United Nations", but the work had no official status.[46]

A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970) was a kind of self-portrait made up of favorite quotations with commentary, arranged in alphabetical order by subject. His last prose book was a selection of essays and reviews, Forewords and Afterwords (1973).[9] His last books of verse, Epistle to a Godson (1972) and the unfinished Thank You, Fog (published posthumously, 1974) include reflective poems about language ("Natural Linguistics") and about his own aging ("A New Year Greeting", "Talking to Myself", "A Lullaby" ["The din of work is subdued"]). His last completed poem, in haiku form, was "Archeology", about ritual and timelessness, two recurring themes in his later years.[28]

Reputation and influence

Auden's stature in modern literature has been disputed, with opinions ranging from that of Hugh MacDiarmid, who called him "a complete wash-out", to the obituarist in The Times (London), who wrote: "W. H. Auden, for long the enfant terrible of English poetry . . . emerges as its undisputed master."[47]

In his enfant terrible stage in the 1930s he was both praised and dismissed as a progressive and accessible voice, in contrast to the politically nostalgic and poetically obscure voice of T. S. Eliot. His departure for America in 1939 was hotly debated in Britain (once even in Parliament), with some critics treating it as a betrayal, and the role of influential young poet passed to Dylan Thomas, although defenders such as Geoffrey Grigson, in an introduction to a 1949 anthology of modern poetry, wrote that Auden "arches over all." His stature was suggested by book titles such as Auden and After by Francis Scarfe (1942) and The Auden Generation by Samuel Hynes (1972).[4]

In the US, starting in the late 1930s, the detached, ironic tone of Auden's regular stanzas set the style for a whole generation of poets; John Ashbery recalled that in the 1940s Auden "was the modern poet."[47] His manner was so pervasive in American poetry that the ecstatic style of the Beat Generation was partly a reaction against his influence. In the 1950s and 1960s, some writers (notably Philip Larkin and Randall Jarrell) lamented that Auden's work had declined from its earlier promise.[47][48]

By the time of Auden's death in 1973 he had attained the status of a respected elder statesman. The Encyclopaedia Britannica notes that "by the time of Eliot's death in 1965 ... a convincing case could be made for the assertion that Auden was indeed Eliot's successor, as Eliot had inherited sole claim to supremacy when Yeats died in 1939."[49] With some exceptions, British critics tended to treat his early work as his best, while American critics tended to favor his middle and later work. Unlike other modern poets, his reputation did not decline after his death, and Joseph Brodsky wrote that his was "the greatest mind of the twentieth century."[6]

Auden's popularity and familiarity suddenly increased after his "Funeral Blues" ("Stop all the clocks") was read aloud in the film Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994); subsequently, a pamphlet edition of ten of his poems, Tell Me the Truth About Love, sold more than 275,000 copies. After September 11, 2001, his poem "September 1, 1939" was widely circulated and frequently broadcast.[47] Public readings and broadcast tributes in the UK and US in 2007 marked his centenary year.[50]

Published works

The following list includes only the books of poems and essays that Auden prepared during his lifetime; for a more complete list, including other works and posthumous editions, see W. H. Auden bibliography.

In the list below, works reprinted in the Complete Works of W. H. Auden are indicated by footnote references.

Books

Film scripts and opera libretti

Notes

  1. ^ The first syllable of "Auden" rhymes with "law" (not with "how").
  2. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 478. ISBN 0-691-08935-3.  Auden used the phrase "Anglo-American Poets" in 1943, implicitly referring to himself and T. S. Eliot.
  3. ^ The first definition of "Anglo-American" in the OED (2008 revision) is: "Of, belonging to, or involving both England (or Britain) and America." "Oxford English Dictionary (access by subscription)". http://dictionary.oed.com/cgi/entry/50008500?single=1&query_type=word&queryword=Anglo-American&first=1&max_to_show=10. Retrieved 2009-05-25.  See also the definition "English in origin or birth, American by settlement or citizenship" in Chambers 20th Century Dictionary. 1983. p. 45.  See also the definition "an American, especially a citizen of the United States, of English origin or descent" in Merriam Webster's New International Dictionary, Second Edition. 1961. p. 103.  See also the definition "a native or descendant of a native of England who has settled in or become a citizen of America, esp. of the United States" from The Random House Dictionary, 2009, available online at "Dictionary.com". http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/Anglo-American. Retrieved 2009-05-25. 
  4. ^ a b c d Smith, Stan, ed. (2004). The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-82962-3. 
  5. ^ Academy of American Poets. "W. H. Auden". http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/120. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  6. ^ a b Brodksy, Joseph (1986). Less Than One: selected essays. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 357. ISBN 0-374-18503-4. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r Fuller, John (1998). W. H. Auden: a commentary. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-19268-8. 
  8. ^ The name Wystan derives from the 9th century St Wystan, who was murdered by Beorhtwulf, king of Mercia, after Wystan objected to Beorthtwulf's plan to marry Wystan's mother. His remains were reburied at Repton, Derbyshire, where they became the object of a cult; the parish church of Repton is named St Wystan's. Auden's father, George Augustus Auden, was educated at Repton School.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Carpenter, Humphrey (1981). W. H. Auden: A Biography. London: George Allen & Unwin. ISBN 0-049-28044-9. 
  10. ^ a b c Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. "Auden, Wystan Hugh" (Subscription access only). http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/30775. Retrieved 2007-01-21. 
  12. ^ In "Letter to Lord Byron" he names the saga character Auðun Skökull as one of his ancestors.
  13. ^ Auden, W. H; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). In Solitude, For Company: W. H. Auden after 1940, unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 193. ISBN 0-19-818294-5. 
  14. ^ Auden, W. H. (1993). The Prolific and the Devourer. New York: Ecco. pp. 10. ISBN 0-88001-345-1. 
  15. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 517. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  16. ^ The Times, July 5, 1922 (Issue 43075), p. 12, col. D
  17. ^ Wright, Hugh, "Auden and Gresham's" in Conference & Common Room, Vol. 44, No. 2, Summer 2007 online at schoolsearch.co.uk (accessed 25 April 2008)
  18. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell (1994). Juvenilia: Poems, 1922-1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03415-X. 
  19. ^ The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934) title details at books.google.com
  20. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. pp. ch. 3. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  21. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 69. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  22. ^ Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 35. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Mendelson, Edward (1981). Early Auden. New York: Viking. ISBN 0-670-28712-1. 
  24. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1996). Prose and travel books in prose and verse, Volume I: 1926–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 138. ISBN 0-691-06803-8. 
  25. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). In Solitude, For Company: W. H. Auden after 1940, unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Clarendon Press. pp. 88. ISBN 0-19-818294-5. 
  26. ^ Lissner, Will. "Poet and Judge Assist a Samaritan." New York Times, 2 March 1956, pp. 1, 39.
  27. ^ Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. pp. 46. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  28. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Mendelson, Edward (1999). Later Auden. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-18408-9. 
  29. ^ Tippins, Sherrill (2005). February House: The Story of W. H. Auden, Carson McCullers, Jane and Paul Bowles, Benjamin Britten, and Gypsy Rose Lee, Under One Roof In Wartime America. Boston: Houghton Mifflin. ISBN 0-618-41911-X. 
  30. ^ Pike, James A., ed., (1956). Modern Canterbury Pilgrims. New York: Morehouse-Gorham. pp. 42. 
  31. ^ a b Kirsch, Arthur (2005). Auden and Christianity. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-10814-1. 
  32. ^ "BBC report on release of MI5 file on Auden". BBC News. 2007-03-02. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/6407793.stm. Retrieved 2010-01-06. 
  33. ^ Mendelson, Edward. "Clouseau Investigates Auden". http://audensociety.org/investigation.html. 
  34. ^ Clark, Thekla (1995). Wystan and Chester: a personal memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. London: Faber and Faber. ISBN 0-571-17591-0. 
  35. ^ Davenport-Hines, Richard (1995). Auden. London: Heinemann. pp. 137. ISBN 0-434-17507-2. 
  36. ^ Auden, W. H. (1966). Collected Shorter Poems, 1927–1957. London: Faber and Faber. pp. 15. ISBN 0-571-06878-2. 
  37. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1979). Selected Poems, new edition. New York: Vintage Books. xix-xx. ISBN 0-394-72506-9. 
  38. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell (1994). Juvenilia: Poems, 1922–1928. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03415-X. 
  39. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. pp. 92. ISBN 0-691-08935-3. 
  40. ^ Auden, W. H. and Christopher Isherwood; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1988). Plays and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1928–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. xxi. ISBN 0-691-06740-6. 
  41. ^ a b c d e f g h Auden, W. H. and Christopher Isherwood; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1988). Plays and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1928–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-06740-6. 
  42. ^ a b c d Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1996). Prose and travel books in prose and verse, Volume I: 1926–1938. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-06803-8. 
  43. ^ Auden, W. H. (1973). Forewords and Afterwords. New York: Random House. pp. 68. ISBN 0-394-48359-6. 
  44. ^ a b c d e f g Auden, W. H. and Chester Kallman; ed. by Edward Mendelson (1993). Libretti and other dramatic writings by W. H. Auden, 1939–1973. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-03301-3. 
  45. ^ Auden, W. H.; ed. by Edward Mendelson (2002). Prose, Volume II: 1939–1948. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-08935-3. 
  46. ^ United Nations - Fact Sheet # 9: "Does the UN have a hymn or national anthem?"
  47. ^ a b c d Sansom, Ian (2004). "Auden and Influence". In Stan Smith. The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 226–39. ISBN 0-521-82962-3. 
  48. ^ Haffenden, John (1983). W. H. Auden: The Critical Heritage. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul. ISBN 0-7100-9350-0. 
  49. ^ "Encyclopaedia Britannica Article: W. H. Auden". http://www.britannica.com/eb/article-9011216/W-H-Auden. Retrieved 2008-02-23. 
  50. ^ The W. H. Auden Society. "The Auden Centenary 2007". http://audensociety.org/news.html. Retrieved 2007-01-20. 

References

Printed sources

See also the listings on the criticism page at the W. H. Auden Society web site. In the list below, unless noted, publication data and ISBN refer to the first editions; many titles are also available in later reprints.

Bibliography

  • Bloomfield, B. C., and Edward Mendelson (1972). W. H. Auden: A Bibliography 1924–1969. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia. ISBN 0-8139-0395-5. See post-1969 supplements in Auden Studies series listed below.

General biographical and critical studies

Special topics

Auden Studies series

  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1990) "The Map of All My Youth": early works, friends and influences (Auden Studies 1). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812964-5.
  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1994). "The Language of Learning and the Language of Love": uncollected writings, new interpretations (Auden Studies 2). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-812257-8.
  • Auden, W. H.; ed. by Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (1995). "In Solitude, For Company": W. H. Auden after 1940: unpublished prose and recent criticism (Auden Studies 3). Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-818294-5.

External links

LGBT portal

See also the descriptive list on the links page at the W. H. Auden Society web site.


Quotes

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Wystan Hugh Auden (21 February 190729 September 1973) was an Anglo-American poet noted for his vast poetic work in a number of themes central in his times.

Contents

Sourced

Poems

To ask the hard question is simple

To ask the hard question is simple,
The simple act of the confused will.

  • Written August 1930. Lines 6-7

Case Histories

I am beginning to lose patience
With my personal relations.
They are not deep
And they are not cheap.

  • Written 1930, published in The English Auden

Stop all the clocks

Written 1936; also known as "Funeral Blues"
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
  • Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
    Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.
    Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
    Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
  • Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
    Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead
  • He was my North, my South, my East and West,
    My working week and my Sunday rest,
    My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
    I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.

Now the leaves are falling fast

Now the leaves are falling fast,
Nurse's flowers will not last;
Nurses to their graves are gone,
And the prams go rolling on.

  • Written 1936. Lines 1-4

Cold, impossible, ahead
Lifts the mountain's lovely head
Whose white waterfall could bless
Travellers in their last distress.

  • Lines 17-20

The Ascent of F6

Acts of injustice done
Between the setting and the rising sun
In history lie like bones, each one.

Lay your sleeping head, my love

Lay your sleeping head, my love
Human on my faithless arm;
Time and fevers burn away
Individual beauty from
Thoughtful children, and the grave
Proves the child ephemeral;
But in my arms till break of day
Let the living creature lie:
Mortal, guilty, but to me
The entirely beautiful.

  • Written January 1937. Also known as Lullaby. Lines 1-2

Spain

And the poor in their fireless lodgings, dropping the sheets
Of the evening paper: "Our day is our loss, O show us

History the operator, the

Organiser, Time the refreshing river."

And the nations combine each cry, invoking the life
That shapes the individual belly and orders

The private nocturnal terror:

"Did you not found the city state of the sponge,

"Raise the vast military empires of the shark
And the tiger, establish the robin's plucky canton?

Intervene. Descend as a dove or

A furious papa or a mild engineer, but descend."

  • Written March 1937. Lines 33-44

On that arid square, that fragment nipped off from hot
Africa, soldered so crudely to inventive Europe;

On that tableland scored by rivers,

Our thoughts have bodies; the menacing shapes of our fever

Are precise and alive. For the fears which made us respond
To the medicine ad and the brochure of winter cruises

Have become invading battalions;

And our faces, the institute-face, the chain-store, the ruin

Are projecting their greed as the firing squad and the bomb.
Madrid is the heart. Our moments of tenderness blossom

As the ambulance and the sandbag;

Our hours of friendship into a people's army.

  • Lines 65-76

To-morrow the rediscovery of romantic love,
The photographing of ravens; all the fun under

Liberty's masterful shadow;

To-morrow the hour of the pageant-master and the musician,

The beautiful roar of the chorus under the dome;
To-morrow the exchanging of tips on the breeding of terriers,

The eager election of chairmen

By the sudden forest of hands. But to-day the struggle.

To-morrow for the young the poets exploding like bombs,
The walks by the lake, the weeks of perfect communion;

To-morrow the bicycle races

Through the suburbs on summer evenings. But to-day the struggle.

  • Lines 81-92

The stars are dead. The animals will not look.
We are left alone with our day, and the time is short, and

History to the defeated

May say Alas but cannot help nor pardon.

  • Lines 101-104

As I Walked Out One Evening

'O plunge your hands in water,
Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
And wonder what you've missed.
 
'The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
A lane to the land of the dead.'

  • Written November 1937. Lines 37-44

Musée des Beaux Arts

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters.

  • Written December 1938. Lines 1-2

They never forgot
That even the most dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer's horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.

  • Lines 9-13

Epitaph on a Tyrant

When he laughed, respectable senators burst with laughter,
And when he cried the little children died in the streets.

  • Written January 1939. Lines 5-6

In Memory of W.B. Yeats

By mourning tongues
The death of the poet was kept from his poems.

But for him it was his last afternoon as himself,
An afternoon of nurses and rumours;
The provinces of his body revolted,
The squares of his mind were empty,
Silence invaded the suburbs.
The current of his feeling failed: he became his admirers.

Now he is scattered over a hundred cities
And wholly given over to unfamiliar affections;
To find his happiness in another kind of wood
And be punished under a foreign code of conscience.
The words of a dead man
are modified in the guts of the living.

  • Written February 1939. Lines 10-23

Follow, poet, follow right
To the bottom of the night,
With your unconstraining voice
Still persuade us to rejoice;

With the farming of a verse
Make a vineyard of the curse,
Sing of human unsuccess
In a rapture of distress;

In the deserts of the heart
Let the healing fountains start,
In the prison of his days
Teach the free man how to praise.

  • Lines 66-77

September 1, 1939

Written September 1939
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse.
The error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages
  • I sit in one of the dives
    On Fifty-second Street
    Uncertain and afraid
    As the clever hopes expire
    Of a low dishonest decade:
    Waves of anger and fear
    Circulate over the bright
    And darkened lands of the earth,
    Obsessing our private lives;
    The unmentionable odour of death
    Offends the September night.
    • Lines 1-11
  • I and the public know
    What all schoolchildren learn,
    Those to whom evil is done
    Do evil in return.
    • Lines 19-22
  • Into this neutral air
    Where blind skyscrapers use
    Their full height to proclaim
    The strength of Collective Man,
    Each language pours its vain
    Competitive excuse.
    • Lines 34-39
  • The windiest militant trash
    Important Persons shout
    Is not so crude as our wish.
  • Lines 56-58
  • For the error bred in the bone
    Of each woman and each man
    Craves what it cannot have,
    Not universal love
    But to be loved alone.
    • Lines 62-66
  • All I have is a voice
    To undo the folded lie,
    The romantic lie in the brain
    Of the sensual man-in-the-street
    And the lie of Authority
    Whose buildings grope the sky:
    There is no such thing as the State
    And no one exists alone;
    Hunger allows no choice
    To the citizen or the police;
    We must love one another or die.
    • Lines 78-88; for a 1955 anthology text the poet changed this line to "We must love one another and die" to avoid what he regarded as a falsehood in the original.
  • Defenceless under the night
    Our world in stupor lies;
    Yet, dotted everywhere,
    Ironic points of light
    Flash out wherever the Just
    Exchange their messages:
    May I, composed like them
    Of Eros and of dust,
    Beleaguered by the same
    Negation and despair,
    Show an affirming flame.
    • Lines 89-99

In Memory of Sigmund Freud

Sad is Eros, builder of cities,
And weeping anarchic Aphrodite.

  • Written November 1939. Lines 111-112

Base words are uttered

Base words are uttered only by the base
And can for such at once be understood;
But noble platitudes — ah, there's a case
Where the most careful scrutiny is needed
To tell a voice that's genuinely good
From one that's base but merely has succeeded.

  • Written 1940. Lines 1-5

The Fall of Rome

Unendowed with wealth or pity,
Little birds with scarlet legs
Sitting on their speckled eggs,
Eye each flu-infected city.

Altogether elsewhere, vast
Herds of reindeer move across
Miles and miles of golden moss,
Silently and very fast.

  • Written January 1947. Lines 21-28

The Shield of Achilles

Written 1952
A million eyes, a million boots in line,
Without expression, waiting for a sign.
Thetis of the shining breasts
Cried out in dismay
At what the god had wrought
To please her son, the strong
Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
Who would not live long.
  • A million eyes, a million boots in line,
    Without expression, waiting for a sign.
  • Out of the air a voice without a face
    Proved by statistics that some cause was just
    In tones as dry and level as the place:
    No one was cheered and nothing was discussed...
  • A crowd of ordinary decent folk
    Watched from without and neither moved nor spoke
    As three pale figures were led forth and bound
    To three posts driven upright in the ground.
  • The mass and majesty of this world, all
    That carries weight and always weighs the same
    Lay in the hands of others; they were small
    And could not hope for help and no help came:
    What their foes like to do was done, their shame
    Was all the worst could wish; they lost their pride
    And died as men before their bodies died.
  • A ragged urchin, aimless and alone,
    Loitered about that vacancy: a bird
    Flew up to safety from his well-aimed stone:
    That girls are raped, that two boys knife a third,
    Were axioms to him, who'd never heard
    Of any world where promises were kept
    Or one could weep because another wept.
  • The thin-lipped armorer,
    Hephaestos, hobbled away,
    Thetis of the shining breasts
    Cried out in dismay
    At what the god had wrought
    To please her son, the strong
    Iron-hearted man-slaying Achilles
    Who would not live long.

The More Loving One

If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

  • Written September 1957. Lines 8-12

After Reading a Child's Guide to Modern Physics

Marriage is rarely bliss
But, surely it would be worse
As particles to pelt
At thousands of miles per sec
About a universe
In which a lover's kiss
Would either not be felt
Or break the loved one's neck.

  • Written 1961. Lines 9-16

Marginalia

Thoughts of his own death,
like the distant roll
of thunder at a picnic.

  • Written between 1965 and 1968.

Moon Landing

from the moment the first flint was flaked this landing was merely a matter of time.
We were always adroiter
with objects than lives, and more facile
at courage than kindness: from the moment

the first flint was flaked this landing was merely
a matter of time. But our selves, like Adam's,

still don't fit us exactly, modern
only in this — our lack of decorum.
  • Written August 1969. Lines 10-16

On This Island

  • Look, stranger, on this island now.

It's no use raising a Shout

  • What's the good of going to Wales?

Prose

"Squares and Oblongs" (Poets at Work (1948))

  • A poet is, before anything else, a person who is passionately in love with language.
    • (p. 170)

"The Dyer's Hand" (essay, 1955)

  • Before people complain of the obscurity of modern poetry, they should first examine their consciences and ask themselves with how many people and on how many occasions they have genuinely and profoundly shared some experience with another; they might also ask themselves how much poetry of any period they can honestly say that they understand.
    • Published in The Listener, 30 June 1955

The Dyer's Hand (1962)

Vintage, ISBN 0-679-72484-2
If, in order to hear some music, a man has to wait for six months and then walk twenty miles, it is easy to tell whether the words, "I should like to hear some music," mean what they appear to mean, or merely, "At this moment I should like to forget myself."
  • The surest sign that a man has a genuine taste of his own is that he is uncertain of it.
    • "Reading" (p. 6)
  • In general, when reading a scholarly critic, one profits more from his quotations than from his comments.
    • "Reading" (p. 9)
  • Some books are undeservedly forgotten; none are undeservedly remembered.
    • "Reading" (p.10)
  • One cannot review a bad book without showing off.
    • "Reading" (p. 11)
  • At first critics classified authors as Ancients, that is to say, Greek and Latin authors, and Moderns, that is to say, every post-Classical Author. Then they classified them by eras, the Augustans, the Victorians, etc., and now they classify them by decades, the writers of the '30's, '40's, etc. Very soon, it seems, they will be labeling authors, like automobiles, by the year.
    • "Reading" (p. 12)
  • No poet or novelist wishes he were the only one who ever lived, but most of them wish they were the only one alive, and quite a number fondly believe their wish has been granted.
    • "Writing" (p.14)
  • In the course of many centuries a few laborsaving devices have been introduced into the mental kitchen — alcohol, coffee, tobacco, Benzedrine, etc. — but these are very crude, constantly breaking down, and liable to injure the cook. Literary composition in the twentieth century A.D. is pretty much what it was in the twentieth century B.C.: nearly everything has still to be done by hand.
    • "Writing" (p. 17)
  • The poet who writes "free" verse is like Robinson Crusoe on his desert island: he must do all his cooking, laundry and darning for himself. In a few exceptional cases, this manly independence produces something original and impressive, but more often the result is squalor — dirty sheets on the unmade bed and empty bottles on the unswept floor.
    • "Writing" (p. 22)
  • The condition of mankind is, and always has been, so miserable and depraved that, if anyone were to say to the poet: "For God's sake stop singing and do something useful like putting on the kettle or fetching bandages," what just reason could he give for refusing? But nobody says this. The self-appointed unqualified nurse says: "You are to sing the patient a song which will make him believe that I, and I alone, can cure him. If you can't or won't, I shall confiscate your passport and send you to the mines." And the poor patient in his delirium cries: "Please sing me a song which will give me sweet dreams instead of nightmares. If you succeed, I will give you a penthouse in New York or a ranch in Arizona."
    • "Writing" (p. 27)
  • Without Art, we should have no notion of the sacred; without Science, we should always worship false gods.
    • "The Virgin & The Dynamo" (p. 62)
  • When I find myself in the company of scientists, I feel like a shabby curate who has strayed by mistake into a drawing room full of dukes.
    • "The Poet & The City" (p. 81)
  • What the mass media offers is not popular art, but entertainment which is intended to be consumed like food, forgotten, and replaced by a new dish. This is bad for everyone; the majority lose all genuine taste of their own, and the minority become cultural snobs.
    • "The Poet & The City" (p.83)
  • All poets adore explosions, thunderstorms, tornadoes, conflagrations, ruins, scenes of spectacular carnage. The poetic imagination is not at all a desirable quality in a statesman.
    • "The Poet & The City" (p. 84)
  • When I consider others I can easily believe that their bodies express their personalities and that the two are inseparable. But it is impossible for me not to feel that my body is other than I, that I inhabit it like a house, and that my face is a mask which, with or without my consent, conceals my real nature from others.
    • "Hic et Ille" (p. 104)
  • The image of myself which I try to create in my own mind in order that I may love myself is very different from the image which I try to create in the minds of others in order that they may love me.
    • "Hic et Ille" (p. 104)
  • Almost all of our relationships begin and most of them continue as forms of mutual exploitation, a mental or physical barter, to be terminated when one or both parties run out of goods.
    • "Hic et Ille" (p. 105)
  • To have a sense of sin means to feel guilty at there being an ethical choice to make, a guilt which, however "good" I may become, remains unchanged.
    • "The Guilty Vicarage" (p. 157)
  • The law cannot forgive, for the law has not been wronged, only broken; only persons can be wronged. The law can pardon, but it can only pardon what it has the power to punish.
    • "The Prince's Dog" (p. 201)
  • All wishes, whatever their apparent content, have the same and unvarying meaning: "I refuse to be what I am."
    • "Interlude: West's Disease" (p. 241)
  • All pity is self-pity.
    • "Interlude: West's Disease" (p. 243)
  • In societies with fewer opportunities for amusement, it was also easier to tell a mere wish from a real desire. If, in order to hear some music, a man has to wait for six months and then walk twenty miles, it is easy to tell whether the words, "I should like to hear some music," mean what they appear to mean, or merely, "At this moment I should like to forget myself." When all he has to do is press a switch, it is more difficult. He may easily come to believe that wishes can come true.
    • Interlude: West's Disease" (p. 245)
  • To some degree every American poet feels that the whole responsibility for contemporary poetry has fallen upon his shoulders, that he is a literary aristocracy of one.
    • "American Poetry" (p. 367)
  • A vice in common can be the ground of a friendship but not a virtue in common. X and Y may be friends because they are both drunkards or womanizers but, if they are both sober and chaste, they are friends for some other reason.
    • "Don Juan" (p. 403)
  • Unfortunately for the modern dramatist, during the past century and a half the public realm has been less and less of a realm where human deeds are done, and more and more of a realm of mere human behavior. The contemporary dramatist has lost his natural subject.
    • "Genius & Apostle" (p. 435)
  • When one looks into the window of a store which sells devotional art objects, one can't help wishing the iconoclasts had won.
    • "Postscript: Christianity & Art" (p. 461)
  • No opera plot can be sensible, for people do not sing when they are feeling sensible.
    • "Notes on Music and Opera" (p.472)

A Certain World: A Commonplace Book (1970)

Viking Press, 1st edition, ISBN 0-670-20994-5
  • Politics cannot be a science, because in politics theory and practice cannot be separated, and the sciences depend upon their separation.
    • "Tyranny”

Forewords and Afterwords (1973)

The idea of a sacrificial victim is not new; but that it should be the victim who chooses to be sacrificed, and the sacrificers who deny that any sacrifice has been made, is very new.
Vintage Books, ISBN 0-394-71887-9
  • A god who is both self-sufficient and content to remain so could not interest us enough to raise the question of his existence.
    • "The Greeks and Us" (pp.15-16)
  • The truly tragic kind of suffering is the kind produced and defiantly insisted upon by the hero himself so that, instead of making him better, it makes him worse and when he dies he is not reconciled to the law but defiant, that is, damned. Lear is not a tragic hero, Othello is.
    • "The Greeks and Us" (p.21)
  • The idea of a sacrificial victim is not new; but that it should be the victim who chooses to be sacrificed, and the sacrificers who deny that any sacrifice has been made, is very new.
    • "Augustus to Augustine" (p.37)
  • The basic stimulus to the intelligence is doubt, a feeling that the meaning of an experience is not self-evident.
    • "The Protestant Mystics" (p.51)
  • Whatever the field under discussion, those who engage in debate must not only believe in each other's good faith, but also in their capacity to arrive at the truth.
    • "The Protestant Mystics" (p.52)
  • The mystics themselves do not seem to have believed their physical and mental sufferings to be a sign of grace, but it is unfortunate that it is precisely physical manifestations which appeal most to the religiosity of the mob. A woman might spend twenty years nursing lepers without having any notice taken of her, but let her once exhibit the stigmata or live for long periods on nothing but the Host and water, and in no time the crowd will be clamoring for her beatification.
    • "The Protestant Mystics" (p.72)
  • In the late Middle Ages there were, no doubt, many persons in monasteries and convents who had no business there and should have been out in the world earning an honest living, but today it may very well be that there are many persons trying to earn a living in the world and driven by failure into mental homes whose true home would be the cloister.
    • "The Protestant Mystics" (p.73)
  • He [Kierkegaard] suffers from one great literary defect, which is often found in lonely geniuses: he never knows when to stop. Lonely people are apt to fall in love with the sound of their own voice, as Narcissus fell in love with his reflection, not out of conceit but out of despair of finding another who will listen and respond.
    • "A Knight of Doleful Countenance" (pp.192-193)
  • I said earlier that I do not believe an artist's life throws much light upon his works. I do believe, however, that, more often than most people realize, his works may throw light upon his life. An artist with certain imaginative ideas in his head may then involve himself in relationships which are congenial to them.
    • "The Greatest of the Monsters" (p.247)
  • A craftsman knows in advance what the finished result will be, while the artist knows only what it will be when he has finished it. But it is unbecoming in an artist to talk about inspiration; that is the reader's business.
    • "A Poet of the Actual" (p.265)
  • Machines have no political opinions, but they have profound political effects. They demand a strict regimentation of time, and, by abolishing the need for manual skill, have transformed the majority of the population from workers into laborers. There are, that is to say, fewer and fewer jobs which a man can find a pride and satisfaction in doing well, more and more which have no interest in themselves and can be valued only for the money they provide.
    • "A Russian Aesthete" (p.279)
  • In most poetic expressions of patriotism, it is impossible to distinguish what is one of the greatest human virtues from the worst human vice, collective egotism.

    The virtue of patriotism has been extolled most loudly and publicly by nations that are in the process of conquering others, by the Roman, for example, in the first century B.C., the French in the 1790s, the English in the nineteenth century, and the Germans in the first half of the twentieth. To such people, love of one's country involves denying the right of others, of the Gauls, the Italians, the Indians, the Poles, to love theirs.

  • Most people call something profound, not because it is near some important truth but because it is distant from ordinary life. Thus, darkness is profound to the eye, silence to the ear; what-is-not is the profundity of what-is.
    • "Un Homme d'Esprit" (p.361)
  • Young people, who are still uncertain of their identity, often try on a succession of masks in the hope of finding the one which suits them — the one, in fact, which is not a mask.
    • "One of the Family" (p.369)
  • Most people are even less original in their dreaming than in their waking life; their dreams are more monotonous than their thoughts and oddly enough, more literary.
  • In all technologically "advanced" countries, fashion has replaced tradition, so that involuntary membership in a society can no longer provide a feeling of community.
    • "Lame Shadows" (p.410)
  • It is, for example, axiomatic that we should all think of ourselves as being more sensitive than other people because, when we are insensitive in our dealings with others, we cannot be aware of it at the time: conscious insensitivity is a self-contradiction.
    • "Markings" (p.438)
  • In any modern city, a great deal of our energy has to be expended in not seeing, not hearing, not smelling. An inhabitant of New York who possessed the sensory acuteness of an African Bushman would very soon go mad.
    • "The Justice of Dame Kind" (p.464)
  • One can only blaspheme if one believes.
    • "Concerning the Unpredictable" (p.472)
  • The curious delusion that some families are older than others.
    • "As It Seemed to Us" (p.498)

Quotes from interviews and profiles

  • Normally, when one passes someone on the street who is in pain, one either tries to help him, or one simply looks the other way. With a photo there's no human decision; you're not there; you can't turn away; you simply gape. It's a form of voyeurism.
    • Paris Review "Writers at Work" interviews, 4th series [ISBN 0-14-00-4543-0] (p.247) [The interview took place in 1972.]
  • It's frightfully important for a writer to be his age, not to be younger or older than he is. One might ask, "What should I write at the age of sixty-four," but never, "What should I write in 1940."
    • Paris Review "Writers at Work" interviews, 4th series (p.250)
  • A poet, qua poet, has only one political duty, namely, in his own writing to set an example of the correct use of his mother tongue, which is always being corrupted. When words lose their meaning, physical force takes over.
    • Paris Review "Writers at Work" interviews, 4th series (p.251)
  • I never write when I'm drunk. Why should one need aids? The Muse is a high-spirited girl who doesn't like to be brutally or coarsely wooed. And she doesn't like slavish devotion — then she lies.
    • Paris Review "Writers at Work" interviews, 4th series (p.254)
  • I don't think the mystical experience can be verbalized. When the ego disappears, so does power over language.
    • Paris Review "Writers at Work" interviews, 4th series (p.266)

Misattributed

  • We are all on earth to help others. What on earth the others are here for, I can't imagine.
    • Often cited as by Auden without attribution, this quotation has been traced to John Foster Hall (1867-1945), an English comedian known as the Reverend Vivian Foster, Vicar of Mirth. Full history with sound recording
  • Minus times minus equals plus,
    The reason for this we need not discuss.
    • As stated in a New York Times article, "The Poet Himself" by Paul Fussell (1981-10-04), [1], these lines were a "math mnemonic" which Auden "had to memorize as a child."

External links

Wikipedia
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Simple English

File:Isherwood and Auden by Carl van Vechten,
W.H. Auden (right) with Christopher Isherwood in 1939.

Wystan Hugh Auden (February 21 1907September 29 1973) was a British born American poet. He wrote several famous poems such as Funeral Blues, and As I Walked Out One Evening. He signed his works W. H. Auden.


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